NOVARS at the Manchester Science Festival 2022

The University of Manchester’s NOVARS research centre showcased their innovative work at this year’s Manchester Science Festival, engaging the public with interactive works combining AI and music.

The Manchester Science Festival returned this year, one of the most popular science festivals in the UK, asking its audience, ’What does the future hold for humanity’’ Under this theme, the festival welcomed an unmissable programme of experiences, events, and world premieres, including the work of the NOVARS research centre.

Delivered by NOVARS researchers, including Professor Ricardo Climent and PhD researcher Cameron Naylor, the centre engaged audiences with three unique, but interrelated displays: AI Beatboxer; Exoplanets; and #UnSupervised highlights. Experiences of two of the displays are detailed below.

AI Beatboxer is a project led by Ricardo Climent and Giorgos Gargalas (Greek beatboxing champion), among others. Visitors, primarily children, were asked to approach a free-standing microphone and make a noise of any sort, from shouting their name to pretending to be a wild animal. Their noises and facial movements were then recorded. In front of them was a display screen with two faces on, one being their own face (in the form of a white mask) which would imitate the child’s facial movement and noises exactly, and the other a beatboxer’s face (also in the form of a mask) that would then mimic the child’s face on screen. Whilst this might sound somewhat complex, the beatboxer face is in practice learning how to beatbox through AI, whereby the AI teaches the beatboxer face to be an ideal singing companion. What made this particular display even more fun was that the on-screen, beatboxer face’s voice was that of Giorgos Gargalas, whose voice was being translated by AI to mimic the child’s.

This display allows children to see that AI can be a welcome companion if used correctly, especially for something as fun and engaging as beatboxing.

The second display, Exoplanets , and led by PhD researcher, Cameron Naylor, is an exploration of space and its planetary soundscape. Visitors were invited to discover the NASA planetary database containing 5000 exoplanets, made navigable using 3D modelling so visitors can understand what these planets may look and sound like. Using AI, each planet has been provided with a unique sound and feel based on its real-life physicality, from the chirping of crickets to the bubbling of magma; each world is wholly unique. Once visitors were familiar with the different exoplanets, they could create their own solar system in ’Universe Mode,’ mixing and matching up to six different planets to produce a solar symphony that is completely out of this world.

By creating new solar systems, Exoplanets invites visitors to think about what life in the stars might be like, and what life on other planets will look and sound like for humans of the future.

This research will be showcased at the upcoming CreaTech Innovation showcase on 30 November 2022, hosted by Creative Manchester in collaboration with the Greater Manchester Universities Partnership. The afternoon will welcome a variety of speakers from across academia who will be presenting on the innovative work and collaborations that are producing creative skills and emerging technologies to create new ways of engaging audiences and to inspire business growth and investment.

If you would like to find out more and book to attend the FREE CreaTech Innovation showcase, then you can via Eventbrite.